22 March 2023

Earth, Wind & Fire At California Jam (April 6, 1974)

On April 6, 1974, Earth, Wind & Fire along with The Eagles, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Seals & Crofts, Black Oak Arkansas, and Rare Earth performed at The California Jam (Ontario Motor Speedway – Ontario, CA). The show was produced and broadcast by ABC.

…but gigs started to have a sameness to me. This all changed in early 1974, when Bob Cavallo called.

“You won’t believe where we got an offer to play,” he said.
“The California Jam.”
“The California what?”

Every decision, big and small, was having an impact on our career. According to Bob, the California Jam offer was in direct response to who EW&F was becoming, imagewise.

The California Jam was a concert for the rock elite that served a 95 percent white audience. These kinds of gigs were foreign to us. At this point, we were opening for ZZ Top, Faces with Rod Stewart, and others. As the only black act on the bill, we definitely represented a new kind of Negro.

We almost had to cancel the California Jam gig. We were on a cross-country flight back to Los Angeles, a week or two before the show, when Larry Dunn cut his finger badly on a razor-sharp paper towel dispenser in the plane’s bathroom. It took a long time to completely heal. I don’t know how in the world he played that gig with bandages and stitches, but he did.

Arriving a day before the show, I quickly realized that this was not just another outdoor concert. The hotel was so far from the staging area that we had to be flown by helicopters. It was our first helicopter ride. Then seeing the expanse of the area was awe-inspiring if not a little nerve-racking. The stages were literally built on train tracks, so they could move them in and out quickly. They had fifteen-story twin towers where the 54,000-watt sound system was placed.

The California Jam was a once-in-a-lifetime event. Taped for ABC Television, the concert was great exposure for us. We had just gotten some new outfits, and we were ready. There were at least 250,000 people at the Ontario Fairgrounds, which is fifty miles east of Los Angeles.

– Maurice White. My Life With Earth, Wind & Fire, by Maurice White with Herb Powell, 2016.

Switch On Your Radio // Maurice White (1985)
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